CARROLLTON, Ga. — Every year for 16 years in a row, David Nichols and family turned on the lights outside his Carrolton home.
The massive display grew over the years, his yard filled with thousands of lights, a snow machine, tunnels, and of course Santa and his sleigh.
“I've always been a Christmas kind of guy. My wife knows," said Nichols. “The Christmas spirit, I can't get it out of me.”
An annual tradition, Nichols decided around 2018 to start opening up his front-yard display to the community. His daughter helped him set up a Facebook page to let people know the location and the rules of the free of charge light show.
“My kids love it. My grandkids love it. We love seeing the families come out. There’s so many families (that) just don't have much nowadays and having a hard time, and love to come out and you know, forget about the world for a while and just enjoy," he said." Some families just don't have the means to go out and do things like they used to, so I'm praying we can still keep spreading joy."
But this year, instead of the feast of lights, it's a graveyard of Christmas spirit, as Nichols received an unwanted present on Dec. 9.
“It was code enforcement," Nichols explained. "I saw two ladies get out of the truck and one said, 'Well, we were going to leave this on your door. But since you're standing here, we're just going to hand it to you.”
Nichols explained prior to getting the code violations, deputy's with the sheriff's office visited him on Saturday, Dec. 4 and Tuesday Dec. 7, after a new neighbor called to complain. Nichols said deputies asked him to turn the music lower or to end the show an hour early.
"They were very kind about it. They weren't doing a bad job and didn't say I was breaking any rules. We shut the show down at 9 p.m. and didn't raise the music level any more," he explained.
The code violations, as written on the form, read Section 60.2, mass gatherings and Section 66.68, noise violation.
A look at the Carroll County Code of Ordinances shows 60.2 means "It shall be unlawful for any person, group, organization, association, club, or other entity to conduct, cause to be conducted, or assist in conducting any mass gathering without having obtained a valid permit for such event."
Nichols said he was confused, since he didn't have large groups of people on his property at one time.
"We maybe had 15 at the most, maybe 20, but not all at one time. I've had more people at my family reunion. We don't have the space for 150-200 people," he said. "And the community knows that, so they rotate. One car will drive by and see there's no place to park and wait for someone to leave then park and get out."
Nichols said his show normally ends at 10 p.m. and posts strict rules about where to park and to avoid neighbor's yards on his Facebook event page. The county profiled his light display in 2020.
But to avoid creating bad blood between neighbors or spend money he didn't have on fines for code violations, Nichols decided to shut the show down.
Within hours of posting on his Facebook page that the show would be canceled, hundreds of people commented showing their support, while others created a petition to get the event back up.
And just a couple hours after Nichols posted the show wouldn't go on, he said he received a call from the county informing him there were no violations and the show could continue.
"Emotionally, it's been overwhelming," Nichols said, crediting the outpouring of love from the community for helping get the situation resolved quickly. "We greatly appreciate it but the support we got.”
"We got everything worked out," he told 11Alive over the phone. "The chairman (of the board of commissioners) called me and said everything was taken care of, so I guess they figured it out with the county. She (the chairman) said there was no violation."
A spokesperson for Carroll County told 11Alive, code enforcement went out to document the neighbor's complaint. They later found Nichols was not in violation of mass gathering or a noise ordinance.
The sheriff’s office also said they offered the neighbor remedies, such as providing cones and stakes to keep people off her lawn.
In a statement, they said, "She declined and asked that (Nichols) keep the noise down and keep people off her lawn. He was not cited and will have no fines. The county supports (Nichol's) light show and understands the neighbor’s frustration with people turning around in her driveway. It’s just a good reminder to keep off other people’s properties this time of year when you’re trying to see Christmas lights.”
Meanwhile, Nichols said he has no hard feelings for his neighbor or the county.
Nichols also advised anyone in a similar situation to check with code enforcement before starting a light show and to "not give up" and work to resolve any conflicts to continue spreading joy to others.